MEL Brooks used to call them "the gentles" because "you have to be very gentle with them." How ironic that they've become front-page news because an angry wife was anything but with her husband's gentles. I mean, Lorena Bobbitt was downright brusque with her lop-and-toss routine.
But the radical gentle-ectomy the Manassas, Va., manicurist performed on her husband has made at least half the nation cross legs a little tighter while reading the newspaper. These days, a man only has to hear "I want to clip a few things when you're done reading that" and he'll spew his mocha java all over the breakfast nook. It's tense out there.
We've all put ourselves in John Wayne Bobbitt's Calvins and shuddered. We may laugh at his misery on the surface, but way down, Dr. Ruth deep, all men suffer from castration anxiety. And headlines like "I Felt a Tug" and "It Hurt a Lot" give us nightmares.
More than once last week, I personally dreamt that my mother -- a retired beautician -- shaved off my goatee. I haven't been this nervous since Goldfinger tried laser surgery on Sean Connery. The idea has always scared me.
I remember as a child being taken to see "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" with my parents. In that film, an old Italian woman chases a man around her kitchen with a butcher knife shrieking, "He touched her! Puttit onna de table, I cut it off!" Growing up in an Italian-American home, I was shaken by this.
The other day, a female friend who has definite ideas about male anatomy said that women are upset about the brutal Bobbitt bobbing, too. "This cuts across gender lines," she said. Everyone who has ever been cheated on by a man -- including another man -- has surely fantasized about getting even with a Ginsu. As my late grandmother -- a 4-foot-tall woman who, in her 89 years on Earth, raised spitefulness to an art -- used to say, "That'd fix his wagon but good."
It would, too.
Anyway, the media attention being showered upon the Bobbitt case points to our national preoccupation with male gentles. Not since Jesse Helms took on Robert Mapplethorpe has pop culture been so rife with phallocentrism. Two nights ago, an adulterer almost got his gentles shot off by a jealous husband only a few minutes into the highly publicized miniseries "Return to Lonesome Dove." The December issue of Mademoiselle includes a feature called "Anatomy of a Boyfriend: A Guide to a Guy's Private Parts." Howard Stern, who complains regularly about being short-changed for someone 6 1/2 feet tall, has posed exposed (except for his gentles) for the cover of his best-selling "Private Parts." MTV's John Stewart talks about his gentles on his new program all the time. Marky Mark dedicated his first book to them.
Then there was that recent Glamour magazine poll that asked its readers if they wanted to see more male nudity in film. (I sent in 400 "yes" postcards myself.) And how many male celebrities have posed in the buff for magazines lately? Sylvester Stallone, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Keanu Reeves, Terence Trent D'Arby -- everyone is playing "I'll show you mine . . ."
I'm waiting for someone to organize a castration-in-movies series. They could show "The Fourth Man," "El Topo," "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Caligula."
Lorena could introduce them -- for a cut of the profits.
Frank DeCaro wrote this for Newsday.